27 February 1998

Check milking gear to keep mastitis out

By Jessica Buss

MILK producers are urged to check milking equipment, particularly cluster air holes and automatic cluster removers, to reduce mastitis risks.

According to dairy consultant John Hughes, speaking at a Cedar Vet Group meeting in Hampshire, milking equipment is responsible for the transfer 80% of mastitis bugs.

By breeding cows for higher yields, we are weakening the muscles in the teats that form the cows natural defence against mastitis, he said. Greater care with milking equipment was, therefore, necessary.

Mr Hughes advised checking cows teats after milking for teat end damage – a sign of poor milking equipment or function. But he was particularly concerned about air bleeds and automatic cluster removers, both of which were often neglected.

Clawpiece holes were vital for the milk to flow, he said. These air bleed holes should be 1mm in diameter and should be kept clean using a wire of the correct size. "When you can hear sucking the air bleeds are blocked."

Automatic cluster removers often remained untested and could damage cows teats, he added.

"Often ACR operated clusters stay on too long when the cow has ceased milking. Vacuum builds up damaging teat tissue, making it more prone to bacterial infection." He advised setting the ACRs for cows with faster milking speeds, not the slowest cows in the herd.

Some ACRs pull the cluster off the cow without waiting for the vacuum to fall. There must be enough time for air to enter through the pinhole and reduce the vacuum before the cluster was pulled away, otherwise teats would be damaged, he said.

Pulling clusters off when there was still a vacuum often caused cows to paddle and kick during milking, because they knew it would be painful, said Mr Hughes. &#42